HL Deb 17 May 1881 vol 261 cc671-5



rose to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, what progress was being made by the Committee appointed by him to inquire respecting the pensions of seamen's and marines' widows; and whether any Report on the subject would be laid on the Table of the House? It was 18 years since this question was first brought before the Board of Admiralty, and 10 years since it was first brought under the notice of the House. In 1864 a Memorial on the subject was addressed by seamen and marines to the then First Lord of the Admiralty. A favourable reply was given to it; and subsequently a Memorial of a similar kind was addressed to the late Mr. Ward Hunt when he was First Lord. He was afraid that, owing to financial reasons, any favourable suggestions which might have been made by First Lords had not been well received by the Treasury, because nothing had been done to carry out the views of the Memorialists. The subject was one of the highest importance, and its importance had increased since it was first pressed on the Admiralty. The risk of accidents to seamen and marines had increased since then; and, as he showed on a former occasion, on successive appeals there was a decrease in the amount subscribed by the public to the widows and children of the victims. He thought that seamen might fairly feel that while every attention was given by the country to the widows of soldiers and Civil servants, the same could not be said in their case. The fact of the sailor being a married man was almost wholly ignored; but great numbers of them were married men, and very many of them had large families dependent on them. The seamen had fixed their eyes on one or two items of saving which came into the hands of the Admiralty, and thought that they had a claim to those savings, as, to a certain extent, they were their own property; but in the event of the Admiralty establishing a Pension Fund they were willing to have deducted in aid of that fund a certain portion of their day's pay. One of the items of saving to which he referred was the difference between the amount paid by the Admiralty for certain articles and the allowance made to the sailor when he did not use them. Then, if a seaman had confinement for six hours, a day's pay was stopped from hum. That was another item of saving to the Admiralty. Those savings might be trifling in individual cases; but in the whole they amounted to a considerable sum. He was not asking for any increase in the seaman's pay; but as the seaman's life during peace was a much less comfortable one than the soldier's, and as the improvements in naval science and pro- jectiles had increased rather than diminished his risk of accidents, it was not unreasonable that he should be treated as well as the soldier. It was stated that the old non-commissioned officers were fast disappearing from the Army, and their places being filled by young corporals and serjeants. If such a thing should come to pass in the sister Service, then the personnel of the Navy was doomed, for there was nothing on which young sailors so much depended as the petty officers. Most of these men were married, and there was no better way of attaching them to the Service than by providing for those they left behind them. Secure of that, they were ready to incur every risk. He should be the last man to stir up agitation among the sailors, for the rule among them was to refrain from all political agitation; but he thought that in again bringing this question under the notice of the First Lord and their Lordships' House, he was doing nothing beyond advocating a legitimate desire.


said, he could assure the House that the Admiralty were not indifferent to the question. Three months ago, when the noble Viscount brought it forward, he (the Earl of Northbrook) stated that the subject was one of considerable importance, but one requiring careful inquiry, which he was resolved it should have. He did not at that time hold out to the noble Viscount the expectation that it could be dealt with within a very short period. When the Report of the Committee upon Pensions was made, he would consider if it might properly be laid upon the Table of the House. As to the question itself, he thought it was not satisfactory that in such cases as that of the loss of H.M.S.Doterel, which happened the other day, the aid to be given to the sufferers should, to a certain extent, depend on an appeal to the public. He had already had some communication with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War on that subject, and they had been in consultation with the Royal Commissioners of the Patriotic Fund, with the view of establishing some system of dealing with such cases. At the same time, he must say that he did not think the noble Viscount gave quite sufficient credit to the country for the assistance that was now given in such calamities as that which occurred the other day to the Doterel. According to the regulations in such cases, a gratuity of one year's pay was given to the widow of each man who lost his life; and in the case of a man who did not leave a widow, a similar gratuity might be awarded to his children or aged parents dependent upon him. Besides that, the children of sailors who met with their death in the way mentioned were educated at the expense of the Greenwich Hospital Fund—the boys at the Greenwich Hospital School, and the girls at certain private schools selected for the purpose. It was his impression that the widows and children of soldiers were not so well treated. He did not think it was well to mix the pension question up with that of the savings between the cost price of articles and the allowance made to a sailor when he did not draw them. When the noble Viscount introduced the latter subject on a previous occasion, he (the Earl of Northbrook) gave an explanation which it was not necessary for him to repeat now. He did not suppose it was suggested that the Government should undertake to pension the widows of all seamen. He thought a provision of that kind ought, as a rule, to be made by the seamen themselves out of their pay; and he was glad to be able to state to their Lordships that the seamen seemed disposed to make it. Savings banks had recently been established at the Naval ports, in addition to those on board ship; and His Royal Highness in command of the Naval Reserves had told him that a large number of the Coastguard insured their lives. He could only repeat what he had said before—that, in his opinion, there were certain funds which might properly be set apart towards providing assistance for the widows of sailors who lost their lives by drowning or other accident; but he hoped the House would allow him to say that any attempt to increase the expenses for the non-effective portion of the Navy ought to be viewed with much jealousy in "another place." Those expenses had grown from £360,000 to £560,000 within 10 years. In his opinion, all the money that could properly be saved in other branches of the Service ought to be expended on the effective or fighting portion. The question of provision for exceptional cases would, however, continue to receive his careful attention.


thanked the noble Earl for his statement, and said, that he did not suggest that any provision should be made in respect to any other than the exceptional cases referred to.

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